Pancreatic Diseases at AGMG
Learn about Pancreatic Disease treatment from the doctors of Associated Gastroenterology
The pancreas is one of the most important organs of the digestive tract but is often overlooked. There are a number of pancreatic diseases that can affect digestion, cause pain or even have increased risk of cancer. The doctors of AGMG are highly skilled in evaluating disorders of the pancreas and performing any necessary procedures involving the pancreas.
What is the pancreas?
The pancreas is a mixed gland organ that lies in the abdomen behind the stomach. It is approximately 6 inches long. Broadly, the pancreas has two major functions. The first is secreting enzymes to help break down our food particles into absorbable components. Second, the pancreas secretes important hormones, such as insulin, to help control blood sugar levels.
What are the different diseases of the pancreas?
- Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas). There is a sudden version of pancreatitis that resolves called acute pancreatitis. There is also an on-going inflammatory process that is permanent version called chronic pancreatitis
- Pancreatic insufficiency. This is a disorder where the pancreas does not produce enough of the enzymes to help us break down our food particles.
- Pancreatic cysts. There are multiple different types of cysts of the pancreas some of which have a cancer risk
- Pancreatic cancer. While most people associate pancreatic cancer with a certain type of cancer called adenocarcinoma, there are actually a number of different types of cancers that can occur in the pancreas each with their own prognosis.
What are symptoms of pancreatic diseases?
- Abdominal Pain
- Fat or oil in the stool
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
- Weight loss
Who should be screened for pancreatic diseases?
Any patient who has had a history of pancreatitis should be evaluated. It is important to determine the reason the inflammation occurred in the first place. The most common reason is alcohol or gallstones. Less commonly things such as medicines, tumors, anatomic abnormalities or even genetics can result in pancreatitis. It is important that patients with pancreatitis are evaluated by an expert in pancreatic disease to identify the reason the inflammation occurred and help prevent any long term complications.
In addition, any patient with a family history of pancreatic cancer should evaluated. There are familial cases of pancreatic cancer and screening is recommended in certain cases.
How do you screen for pancreatic diseases?
The anatomy of the pancreas is best examined with radiographic tests including CT scan, MRI or endoscopic ultrasound (EUS). A regular US is not a good test to evaluate the pancreas because of its position behind the stomach. The function of the pancreas can be evaluated with blood work and even stool tests..
How do you treat celiac disease?
Treatment of pancreatic diseases requires multiple different approaches. Lifestyle changes such as quitting tobacco and alcohol and following a healthy low fat diet are essential. Medications can be used to replace the enzymes produced by the pancreas to help us break down our food. Occasionally endoscopic procedures are necessary to treat blockages in the pancreas, biopsy cysts or masses or remove stones. Sometimes surgery is even necessary in the case of chronic pancreatitis or cancers.
Frequently Asked Questions
The two most common endoscopic procedures to evaluate the pancreas are ERCP and EUS. Endoscopic Ultrasound (EUS) is a very useful tool to look directly at the pancreas. The pancreas lies right behind the stomach. With the ultrasound probe positioned in the stomach, the entire pancreas can be visualized. ERCP is used to remove stones that can cause pain or inflammation of the pancreas or help open up blocked ducts.
It is estimated that 10% of pancreatic cancers are hereditary. Most of these cases occur as part of genetic syndromes that have increased cancer risks such as BRCA. If you have a family history of pancreatic cancer, speak to a doctor who specializes in pancreatic diseases to see if you should be enrolled in a screening program. Early detection of pancreatic cancer or pre-malignant cysts can save lives.
The National Pancreas Foundation is an amazing resource for all patients with or interesting in learning more about diseases of the pancreas. There is disease information, dietary help and local support groups. Learn more: pancreasfoundation.org